WTA Finals Preview: National Pride And No.1 Ranking At Stake For The Women’s Elite - UBITENNIS
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WTA Finals Preview: National Pride And No.1 Ranking At Stake For The Women’s Elite

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The 2017 WTA Finals eight players (zimbio.com)

For the fourth consecutive year the best players in the world will descend upon Singapore to play in the season-ending WTA Finals.

 

The eight highest scoring players on the tour this season will grace their presence in the round-robin tournament, which has a prize money pool of $7 million. Those eight have been split into two groups, called red and white. The top two players in each group will then progress to the semifinals.

Unlike previous years, seven out of the eight participants have the ability to end 2017 as world No.1. France’s Caroline Garcia is the only exception. Furthermore, five players are aiming to be the first from their country to win the tournament. The five is made up of Simona Halep (Romania), Garbine Muguruza (Spain), Elina Svitolina (Ukraine), Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark) and Jelena Ostapenko (Latvia).

The Red Group

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Current world No.1 Simona Halep will headline the red group. Until the past month, 2017 has been a case of always the bridesmaid and never the bride for the Romanian. Her consistency on the tour, illustrated by a win-loss of 46-15, has brought her close to the top spot on numerous occasions. At the French Open, she lead Ostapenko by a set and a break in the final before being denied her first grand slam and the No.1 ranking. It was a trend that continued to occur until she struck gold in Beijing in a somewhat fitting fashion. Getting revenge against Ostapenko to reach the final.

“Inside I can say that something has changed. I’m very happy about what I did. But outside is just normal, normal things. Nothing changes. It’s just I have to work harder to keep that (smiling). But I’m here just to enjoy the moment and we’ll see what is going to happen.” Halep told reporters about her rise to No.1.
“The dream came true. It is just the best feeling that I ever had in my tennis career. I’m just enjoying the moment. I cannot describe in words what I feel, but it’s a good feeling. I’m happy when I’m going to the courts now.”

Halep has reached five finals of the tour this season with her sole victory occurring in May when she defended her title at the Madrid Open.

Aiming to derail the top seed are three players that have previously scored wins over her at some point in their careers. Elina Svitolina has won more singles trophies (five so far) on the WTA Tour than anybody else this season, including two Premier 5 tournaments. She also owns the record of the longest streak on the tour this season with 15 consecutive wins. Against Halep, she has already defeated her twice this year.

“Of course I have lots of confidence. I mean, I won five tournaments this year. It was an amazing year for me. Lots of good memories. Hopefully it will continue in this tournament, as well. I’m looking forward to each challenge, you know, and it’s been an amazing year with so many good things.” Said Svitolina.
“Of course there have been some very disappointing losses, as well. For me, just the road to the top is never straight. It’s always with some curves (smiling).”

Making her fifth appearance, Caroline Wozniacki is eager to go deep in a tournament once again. The Dane had to settle for runner-up six consecutive times this season before prevailing at the Pan Pacific Open to win her 26th tour title. Despite being a former grand slam finalist and world No.1, 2017 is the first year she has managed to score 10 or more wins over top-10 players. Overall, she has won 55 matches this season, more than any other player in the tournament.

Hoping to capitalise on her previous WTA Finals experience, Wozniacki is aiming to reach the semifinal stage for the fourth time.

“”It’s a little bit of a different surface. I think if the balls hit through, they kind of skid through the court. If there is a bit more spin on it, the ball stops and it’s very slow. But I have played well here before, and I’m just excited for the challenge.” Wozniacki commented on the playing surface in Singapore.

Completing the group is 8th seed Garcia, who is one out of three players making their debut in the event. She secured her place with the help of a dream run in China. The 24-year-old is currently on a 11-match winning streak after claiming back-to-back titles in Wuhan and Beijing. In Beijing, she disposed of both Svitolina and Halep. Underlining her threat to the group. Earlier this year Garcia reached her first major quarter-final at the French Open before going out to Karolina Plisklova.

“I think it’s a great challenge for me. To improve, to learn a lot of things, to get experience to be ready for next year. Halep, Svitolina, Wozniacki are the best we can do in this kind of styles, and they will have to make me work from the baseline, try to be very aggressive, play with my shots. I can’t ask for a better match to play, for sure.” – Garcia.

Head-to-head

Halep Wozniacki Svitolina Garcia
Halep 2-3 2-2 2-1
Wozniacki 3-2 0-3 2-0
Svitolina 2-2 3-0 1-1
Garcia 1-2 0-2 1-1

The White Group

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A mixture of old and new features in the quartet. Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza is the highest ranked player in the group. The Spaniard enjoyed a brief four-week spell as world No.1 before being dethroned. She heads into the draw winning 46 out of 65 matches played this season. On the tour, she clinched the Cincinnati Open title with a 6-0, 6-1, thrashing against Halep. Muguruza has also been named the WTA ‘s player of the year.

“At the beginning of the year I had a few injuries and I was a little bit sad because I felt like I worked so hard in the preseason I couldn’t really show it on the court.” Explained Muguruza.
“I didn’t drop my spirit. In the clay season, I was really motivated, and I just cleaned that and started strong at Wimbledon, thinking that my time was gonna come. After that, everything went well. And what I like the most, it’s like after winning a Grand Slam I could manage to maintain that level for a couple more tournaments and not just lose.”

Pliskova will make her second consecutive appearance in Singapore after crashing out in the round robin stages last year. Known for her fierce serve, she has won a trio of premier titles in 2017 (two on a hard-court and one on grass). So far she has defeated four top-10 players this season, including Muguruza on two occasions. The Czech has also managed to reach the quarter-finals or better at three out of the four majors. Her best season performance at the grand slams to date.

“I think my group [has] more aggressive-style players in the group and the other one is more defending. I just like to play better these players. I played all of them a few times. It’s not that I didn’t lose to them, but it’s just like I like better their style of the game.”

At the age of 20, Ostapenko is the youngest player to debut at the WTA Finals since Wozniacki back in 2010. She rose to the limelight following her fairytale run at the French Open. At Roland Garros, where she was unseeded, Ostapenko knocked out four seeded players to claim her first title of any sort. More recently, she triumphed at Korea Open. Winning 42 matches this season, the Latvian has the second-lowest amount of tour wins in the entire draw.

Finally, Venus Williams continues to prove the age is irrelevant. The 37-year-old made her finals debut back in 1999. Overall, she has played in the tournament four times, winning it in 2008. A lot has changed since then, but the American has managed to fight her way back to the top.

“Just the depth in the game. The competition is so much greater. It’s a beautiful change, in fact.” She reflected about the changes in the women’s game.

Despite winning no titles and only 34 matches in 2017, it has hard to rule out her chances. Twice this year, Williams has reached the final of a major. At the Australian Open she fell to sister Serena and then succumbed to Muguruza in Wimbledon. In the premier events, her best run was a semifinal appearence in Miami.

“They’re all pretty special,” Williams reflected about her appearances at the year-end event. “It’s the end of the year. Only Top 8 get here. It’s definitely something well earned.”

Williams is the third oldest player to qualify for the tour finals after 39-year-old Billie Jean King in 1983, and a 38-year-old Martina Navratilova in 1994.

Head-to-head

Muguruza Pliskova Ostapenko Williams
Muguruza 2-6 2-1 2-3
Pliskova 6-2 2-0 1-1
Ostapenko 1-2 0-2 0-1
Williams 3-2 1-1 1-0

Schedule of play

Date Session Day/Night Start of Session
Sunday
22 October
1 Night 5:00pm – Singles
NB 7.30pm – Singles
Monday
23 October
2 Night 7:30pm – Singles
FB – Singles
Tuesday
24 October
3 Night 7:30pm – Singles
FB – Singles
Wednesday
25 October
4 Night 7:30pm – Singles
FB – Singles
Thursday
26 October
5 Day 1:30pm – Doubles
NB 4:00pm – Singles
6 Night 7:30pm – Singles
FB – Doubles
Friday
27 October
7 Day 1:30pm – Doubles
NB 4:00pm – Singles
8 Night 7:30pm – Singles
FB – Doubles
Saturday
28 October
9 Day 1:30pm – Doubles Semi Final
NB 4:00pm – Singles Semi Final
10 Night 7:30pm – Singles Semi Final
FB – Doubles Semi Final
Sunday
29 October
11 Night 4:00pm – Doubles Final
NB 7:30pm – Singles Final

NOTE: Time according to Singapore timezone (GMT+8)

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Australian Open: Stefanos Tsitsipas Determined To Make Grand Slam Dream Reality After Djokovic Defeat

Stefanos Tsitsipas is still determined to achieve his Grand Slam dream after losing the Australian Open final.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas (@CitiOpen - Twitter)

Stefanos Tsitsipas is remaining determined to achieve his Grand Slam dream after he lost in the Australian Open final to Novak Djokovic.

 

Playing his second Grand Slam final, Stefanos Tsitsipas was dominated by Novak Djokovic in a 6-3 7-6(4) 7-6(5) defeat with Djokovic claiming his tenth Australian Open title.

The result won’t downplay Tsitsipas’ impressive start to the season as he will now climb up to world number three when the new rankings are released on Monday.

Even though Tsitsipas’ dream of winning a Grand Slam title may not have been realised in Melbourne, the Greek is more determined than before to make it a reality in the future.

Speaking after the match Tsitsipas said he was happy with the two weeks as he looks to win more trophies in the near future, “Look, I’m not thinking about the match anymore,” Tsitsipas said in his press conference.

“I’m just happy that I’m in another Grand Slam final. Of course, I was dreaming about the trophy, lifting that trophy. I even dreamt it last night in my sleep. The desire is really there. I really, really want it badly.

“But just dreaming about it won’t make it happen. You got to act. You got to do something out there. You got to be present even more and do better. Today I felt like there were moments that I was close, but the tiebreak didn’t really show that both ways. Just bad starts. So I’ll just eliminate it, take the good things, move on from there.

It’s a long season. It’s an exhausting season. I got to be physically ready for the difficult matches that I will have to play this year against the best players in the world.”

It’s clear that Tsitsipas wants to move onto the future where he will look to improve in winning the biggest titles on the tour.

However the new world number three also reflected on the past and how this year’s loss feels in comparison to the one in Paris where he lost from two sets down to Djokovic.

Tsitsipas said the one in Paris was more heart-breaking and has learnt from that experience, “Well, Paris was heartbreaking. I was two sets to love up. I wasn’t really thinking that I was two sets to love up. I mean, I was aware of it, but it didn’t occupy too much of my thought process,” the Greek explained.

“Let’s say I did some technical decisions there that were wrong, which I’m pretty sure I’m not going to repeat again in my career. Just pure stubbornness from my side. I can’t see or feel the same again, because that was a different final from what we had today.

“That was disappointing, for sure. A lot of not-such-nice things happened for me that day, losing my grandmother the day of the final, not knowing about it but finding out later.

“There was something in the air that day that made it feel that there was something odd about that day. I still remember it. I don’t want to remember it because it’s not a nice feeling.”

Motivated by his two losses in Grand Slam finals, Tsitsipas will now look to have the desire and consistency to achieve his world number one goal.

Concluding his press conference Tsitsipas said that he’s not lowering his expectations despite recent results, “I want to max out in what I do in my profession. No. 1 is on my mind. It doesn’t come easy, I know that. I got to work harder to make that happen,” Tsitsipas claimed.

“What I can say is being on the tour for a few years now, I get a lot of different experiences, I get a lot of different things that I’m faced with.

“It’s my time to aim for something like this. I don’t see any reason to be lowering my expectations or my goals. I am born a champion. I can feel it in my blood. I can feel it as a competitive kid that I was when I was young. It’s
something that is within me.

“I want to harvest that, make it bloom, make it even stronger and fonder, work hard towards those goals.”

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas Play for the Men’s Championship

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Novak Djokovic this week in Melbourne (twitter.com/australianopen)

A year ago, Novak Djokovic experienced quite an embarrassing debacle.  After the unvaccinated Djokovic was initially granted an exemption and allowed to enter Australia, he was later detained, and eventually deported and prevented from competing at this tournament.  His refusal to get vaccinated continues to prevent Novak from competing in North American tournaments, missing Indian Wells, Miami, Canada, Cincinnati, and the US Open last year. 

 

But at the events Djokovic has been allowed to participate in over the past seven months, he has been nearly unstoppable.  Since the beginning of Wimbledon last June, he is now 37-2, with five titles.  Novak comes into this championship match on a 16-match winning streak, with seven of those victories against top 10 opposition.  With a win on Sunday, Djokovic not only ties Rafael Nadal in their ongoing race for history with 22 Major titles, but he also regains the World No.1 ranking, despite all the tennis he’s missed.

However, standing in his way is a hungry and confident Stefanos Tsitsipas.  This is the Greek’s second Major final, and the second time he’s encountered Djokovic in this round of a Slam.  Two years ago in the championship match of Roland Garros, Tsitsipas secured the first two sets, before losing to Novak in five.  If Stefanos can win one more set on Sunday, he’ll not only win his first Major title, he’ll also become the World No.1 for the first time.

Also on Sunday, the women’s doubles champions will be crowned.  Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, who have won six Majors as a team, face Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara, who are vying for their first Major as a team. 


Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) vs. Novak Djokovic (4) – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Djokovic’s excellence in the latter rounds of the Australian Open is rivaled only by Nadal’s excellence at Roland Garros.  Novak is now 19-0 in the semifinals and finals of this tournament, which is quite staggering.  He’s also won his last 27 matches at this event, and his last 40 in Australia in general, a streak that dates back over five years.  While Novak suffered a hamstring injury a week before this fortnight, he has still advanced to this final rather easily, dropping only one set through six matches.

Tsitsipas has now reached the semifinals or better in four of the last five years at the Australian Open, but this is his first time reaching the final.  He enjoys plenty of Greek support at this event, and appears to have some extra swagger in his step during this fortnight.  Stefanos has dropped three sets to this stage, and has been superb at saving break points.  Through six matches, he has saved 44 of 53 break points faced.

Both men feel fully at home on Rod Laver Arena, and have described it as their favorite court.  But this is their first meeting on RLA.  They’ve met plenty of times on other courts though, in a rivalry that’s been thoroughly dominated by Djokovic.  The Serbian leads 10-2, and has claimed their last nine matches.  That includes four matches that took place in 2022, in which Novak won eight of their nine sets.  They played three times within a six-week period this past fall on indoor hard courts, with their closest and best matchup taking place in the semifinals of Bercy, where Djokovic prevailed in a final-set tiebreak.

Djokovic is undeniably a huge favorite to win his 10th Australian Open.  But that common knowledge takes a lot of pressure off Tsitsipas, who was so close to defeating Novak the last time they met in a Slam final.  Djokovic has been rather unbothered by all competition during this tournament, even with an injured hamstring.  Can Stefanos pull off one of the bigger surprises in recent tennis history?  I expect him to challenge Novak on Sunday, but Tsitsipas’ backhand remains a liability. And with Djokovic determined to avenge what he sees as mistreatment a year ago in Australia, a Novak loss would be truly surprising.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Australian Open: ‘Confident’ Elena Rybakina Unfazed By Top Ten Debut

Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina insisted that her debut in the top ten doesn’t change anything ahead of the rest of the season.

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Elena Rybakina (marioboc17 - Twitter)

Elena Rybakina has remained unbothered by her upcoming top ten debut and admits her confidence has grown despite her Australian Open final defeat.

 

The Wimbledon champion was close to winning a second Grand Slam title in Melbourne but fell just short after a three set defeat to Aryna Sabalenka.

Rybakina took the opening set with some blistering tennis and had her chances against the big-serving Belarusian in the final set.

However it wasn’t her day as Sabalenka just about held her nerve to secure her first Grand Slam singles title.

Reflecting on the match Rybakina said the turning point was Sabalenka raising her level but admitted it has been a great two weeks, “I think Aryna raise her level in the second set. She played really well, aggressive, a bit less mistakes,” Rybakina told the press conference.

“I should have been also more aggressive in some moments. Yeah, I had some chances, for sure, to turn it around. But, yeah, she played really well today. She was strong mentally, physically. Yeah, overall, as I said, it was a good two weeks for me here.”

It was an impressive run from Rybakina who managed to beat three former Grand Slam champions in the form of world number one Iga Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka to get to the final.

Reflecting on the future Rybakina admitted that this tournament has given her more confidence that Grand Slam finals is where she should be, “Well, if it’s going to be like this, it’s great. For sure, that’s the goal, to be in the second week of all the Grand Slam, to play finals,” Rybakina happily claimed.

“Yeah, I mean, now I have more confidence of course even after this final. Yeah, I just need to work hard, same as I did during pre-season and actually throughout the years, be healthy, and for sure the results are going to come.

“Even I would say I’m trying to not think about expectations and everything. Still after a great pre-season like this I was thinking I should show it on the court. Then, of course, the results are going to be there.

“As I said, first few weeks was not that great like maybe the other years I was starting. But, yeah, I think in the end it’s just confidence to go forward, to keep on working.”

Despite not claiming a second Grand Slam title, it has been a very positive week for Rybakina who will now take her place in the world’s top ten.

The Kazakh will be seen as a big threat to the rest of the tour as now she looks to keep performing well at big tournaments.

However Rybakina’s top ten debut won’t change anything according to the Wimbledon champion, “I don’t think tomorrow I’m going to feel different just because of the ranking now,” Rybakina boldly stated.

“But, I mean, for sure it’s going to be different on the smaller tournaments, I would say. I’m going to be seeded. Maybe in some tournaments I’m not going to play first round. So of course there is some benefits out of this. But for sure I don’t really look for the numbers ranking so much.”

Rybakina will look to continue to climb up the rankings when she competes in Abu Dhabi, which starts on the 5th of February.

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